by Vincent J. McNally MPS, CEAP
It was a beautiful day in Honolulu and I was conducting surveillance on a criminal matter along with the rest of the FBI surveillance team when we were advised that we were to be on stand-by for a kidnapping matter. We learned that a one year old girl was missing from a military housing unit in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor. The next message on the car radio was that our surveillance team was to move closer to Honolulu Airport and standby for instructions. I immediately thought of McGarrett in the original Hawaii Five-O television series ordering his associates to “seal off the island.” I could not resist the opening so I blurted this out on the radio. So much for cop humor as I did not know what would happen next. The next radio call was a request by the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) for me to report to him at the Pearl Harbor house where the father was being interviewed by Agents. I kept thinking why the SAC would want me. Was it because I was the Employee Assistance Coordinator for the office and had assisted others in their time of crisis, or was it because I was a hostage negotiator and I could deal with persons going through violent and traumatic incidents?
When I arrived at the small apartment on a hill, not a house as I thought, I was briefed by one of the Agents that the father of the child last saw his one year old the previous night when they went to bed, and when he woke up in the morning the child was gone and the front door was ajar. A search had been conducted in the neighborhood with negative results. It was learned that the wife no longer lived at the house and the father had custody of the child. At this time the Tech Agents were setting up the phones so the calls could be traced, and I overheard the instruction to the father not to use the phone in any manner until the Tech Agents completed their job. So my job was to re-interview the father and determine any additional information.
Before I could interview the father the phone rang and to my surprise the father who was standing near the phone grabbed the phone, and started talking to someone, and immediately stated, “When they find the body…..” A shiver went down my back because I then realized that the father had either killed the child or knew something about the death as he was talking about the body of the child.
I took the father to a room in the house and proceeded to interrogate him about his child and he could offer no positive information except to discuss his ex-wife who was a drug addict and had left him. I also learned that the father, who was a navy Sailor, was having financial difficulties making ends meet and also was having trouble obtaining a babysitter for his daughter when he was going to work. During the interview the mother of the father had arrived and I stopped the interview of the father to talk to his mother.
I proceeded to sit the mother down and told her that I had suspected that her son committed the murder of his daughter based on the statement he made on the phone, and I would like her to convince her son to come clean and admit what had happened to his daughter whether it was an accident or a deliberate act of murder. It was late at night and the mother agreed to assist me and talk to me in the morning. Shortly thereafter the mother convinced her son to tell the truth.
The father admitted that he was emotionally distraught over his wife leaving him and was having a difficult time financially, and the other night he lost it and shook the baby who was crying uncontrollably and would not stop. The father stated that he had no intention of killing the child but just wanted her to stop crying so he could go to sleep and the child stopped breathing after he shook her. The father then panicked and instead of calling an ambulance he decided to dispose of the body and he put it in a duffel bag and threw it into Pearl Harbor. The father was arrested and received a jail sentence.
Why would I write this story? It seems that it was a normal police investigation which was solved and the perpetrator went to jail. Well not exactly….What happened 20 years ago is etched in my mind and the details are still very clear to me. Whenever a child is killed, whether with malice or accidentally, you are affected because you place your own child in the scenario, and you want to run home and hug your children. Each person goes through the grief process differently and this is dependent on the level of trauma each one has experienced throughout their life.
I was shocked in a way, even though I suspected the father as having killed the child, but I did not expect that the child would have been thrown into Pearl Harbor. Then I denied this type of atrocity could have occurred. This was a fleeting emotion as I have seen or heard of similar crimes. Of course I was angry at the father for killing his child and there really is no excuse for this action. I then grieved in my own way for the death of the young child. I accept that this incident occurred, but I do not accept this type of behavior by anyone.
The facts of the case remain crystal clear to me, even after over twenty years of time, and one of the positive aspects of this case is that my daughters have married and have children and my wife and I visit them and are proud of everyone and love them. The bad news is that this story is still in the forefront of my mind and is one of those “bricks” that I carry around in my invisible knapsack and the emotional toll remains. As my wife reminds me every so often….you are not the patient relaxed guy that I met. She is right and I then realize I can do something about it and change my attitude. Life is too short to lose one day to traumatic stress, and I firmly believe, and I have followed my own tenets and “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength!”
About the Author: Vince McNally has provided over 100 workshops, seminars, and keynotes throughout the world. He is an author, lecturer, and consultant. A Navy Investigator in Vietnam and a volunteer in training the Iraqi Police in Baghdad in Hostage Negotiations, he continues to research the area of Post-Traumatic Stress in returning veterans and contractors in Iraq. After 31 years as a FBI Agent, Vince has conducted and led investigations in general criminal violations, espionage, terrorism, white-collar crime, organized crime, and drug violations. He is an instructor in Crisis (Hostage) Negotiations. Vince retired after serving as Unit Chief of the Employee Assistance Unit (EAU) of the FBI in Washington D.C. He was also the Program Manager for the FBI’s Critical Incident Stress Management teams at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In September 2001, Vince and others responded to New York City. He also directed and provided FBI Employee Assistance to TWA Flight 800 and numerous responses throughout the U.S. Vince serves on the Board of Scientific & Professional Advisors of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (National Center for Crisis Management). He is a Compassion Fatigue Specialist, Board Certified in Acute Traumatic Stress Management (ATSM), Board Certified in Emergency Crisis Response (B.C.E.C.R.), and is a Certified Member of the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology. He is also a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP).
His focused presentations on stress and trauma have been shared with thousands of emergency service personnel and other care givers. His expertise and reputation as a speaker has found him presenting to the military in Switzerland and most recently as a presenter on hostage negotiations for the cruise industry addressing piracy on the high seas as he is a Certified Ship Security Officer (SSO).
Contact information: Vincent J. McNally Trauma Reduction Inc. 813 802 8086 firstname.lastname@example.org